Within the last five to seven years, game developers have wrestled with an issue that plagues all online gaming experiences. Player retention is difficult to handle, especially when the stakes are so high and competition is so fierce in the MMO, ARTS and casual gaming markets. Some developers attempt to remedy this issue by creating a system that encourages users to log on every day, while others ignore the issue altogether and allow their game to succeed on its merits alone. When every game developer is fighting over the gaming community’s attention, the question becomes whether or not gamers are playing games for the right reasons. The ‘right’ reasons for a video game company are simple, which is to say that any reason a gamer would have for giving the company money is correct in their eyes. If games are to be considered art, however, the intention of both the artist and the audience should be taken into consideration.
In the early years of the daily quest phenomenon, the MMORPG community was the holy grail for game developers. Everyone wanted to be like Blizzard, with a community of millions of players logging onto their servers every day. The problems started popping up once developers realized that that kind of volume was not sustainable for everyone who wanted to develop an MMO. Companies started fighting over pieces of the MMORPG pie and the amusement park MMO development cycle pumped out the idea of daily quests. All of a sudden, the gaming community was bombarded with objectives and rewards that required constant attention. No longer can a game just be about fun. Gamers now have to feel like they are properly rewarded for every in-game action. More often than not, I find myself logging off of games like Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm when I’ve finished with all of my daily objectives. The problem is that gamers begin to play games every day just to finish their dailies, instead of playing a game because it’s fun.
This isn’t just an issue for the integrity of gaming, however. Daily quests act like a bandage on a gaping wound, covering up the issue rather than resolving it. Getting users to log into a game every day is an easy statistic to track, but doesn’t actually guarantee audience retention. If a player logs off soon after finishing daily quests, its clear that they aren’t actually interested in spending time playing the game. Time spent in game can be loosely associated with loyalty, which is at least partially related to how much a player is willing to spend on micro-transactions. The reliance on a carrot-on-a-stick gameplay mechanic to keep people logging in and playing a specific way seems to create an audience that is the direct opposite of what I would call a healthy fan base.
Some companies that seem to be working in the right direction are Arena Net and Trion Worlds with Guild Wars 2 and Rift respectively. Each game rewards players for logging in with small trinkets or in-game currency without requiring the player to complete a specific task. The developers aren’t trying to dictate how the user plays the game, but are rather using the daily gifts as incentives for gamers to play however they wish. Daily encouragement isn’t an issue, as much as daily quests that task the player to play a specific character or a specific game mode, which gives a sense of finality to the gameplay experience. This is especially bad in an MMORPG, as their main attraction is that they have no end. An MMO can never be beaten or completed, but daily quests at least subtly suggest that a player is finished and should go onto some other activity, which is not always necessarily in game.
Ideally, people wouldn’t need encouragement to play games they like, as the game community is already plenty full of toxic gamers that don’t know why they’re playing games in the first place. Games like Minecraft thrive on user-based objectives, creating endless gameplay opportunities with very little direction, but other developers seem to think that their player base needs to be tricked into enjoying a product. If daily quests are a necessary part of the online micro-transaction market, then companies need to find a better way to implement that kind of idea without it negatively affecting gameplay.